L. E. (Lucius Eugene) Chittenden.

Recollections of President Lincoln and his administration online

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eration was found to be controlling with other eminent
financial men possessed of similar qualifications.

While it was generally understood that the Republi-
can congressmen of New York were looking for a suit-
able successor to Mr. Cisco, they were amazed by the
discovery that Secretary Chase had sent the name of
Maunsel B. Field to the President for appointment to
that responsible office. The fact became public through
Mr. Field himself, who disclosed it to Republicans to
whom he applied for recommendations. It produced
something like an explosion of indignant opposition.

It seemed impossible to account for this nomination


upon the ordinary motives which control human action.
It was one which Secretary Chase should have known
was unwise to be made. The nominee had not one of the
qualities which had made Mr. Cisco strong, or which
had led to the selection of Mr. Stewart. He had no
financial or political standing, and his natural abilities
were of a literary rather than an executive character.
It was not surprising, therefore, that Senator Morgan
and other Republicans hurried to the President and
indignantly protested against Mr. Field's nomination.
They did not measure their words. They claimed that
such an appointment would be an insult to the Union
men of New York ; that it would injure the party and
disgrace the administration ; and, finally, they offered to
procure a written protest against the nomination, to be
signed by every Republican senator and member of the
House in the present Congress.

From the time the opposition to him was made public,
the nomination of Mr. Field became impossible. The
natural course obviously was for the President to as-
sume that Secretary Chase had suggested him in igno-
rance of the objections now urged against him ; to re-
quest the secretary to withdraw Mr. Field and make an-
other nomination. But there had already been friction
between the President and the secretary on the subject
of nominations ; the latter insisting that as he was held
responsible for the administration of the Treasury, he
should hold the unrestricted power of appointment and
removal. The President conceded his claim, but main-
tained that it should be reasonably exercised, and that
he should not be requested to make an appointment to
an office in a state the whole congressional delegation
of which opposed it, which would prove injurious to the
party, or which was contrary to the traditions of the


administration. In other instances the secretary had
shown himself unwilling to admit even these restric-
tions, and in the case of one appointment made against
the wishes of the Republicans of a state, and rejected
by the Senate, he threatened to resign his office unless
the President renominated the rejected candidate a
second time. Although the difficulty in the case re-
ferred to was compromised, the President anticipated
that Secretary Chase would insist upon Mr. Field's ap-
pointment, notwithstanding all the objections an opin-
ion in which he was confirmed by the fact that the
secretary neither called upon nor communicated with
him after some of the New York Republicans had re-
monstrated against the nomination to Mr. Chase in

After twenty-four hours' delay the President, waiving
all ceremony, sent a polite note to the Treasury asking
his Secretary to oblige him by sending him the nomina-
tion of some one who was not objectionable to the sen-
ators from New York. Instead of withdrawing Mr.
Field's name, Secretary Chase replied by note, asking for
an interview. When two parties are seated actually in
sight of, and begin to write formal notes to each other,
they are neither very likely nor very desirous to agree.
The President declined the interview, on the ground
that the difference between them did not lie within the
range of a conversation. In the meantime the inge-
nuity of Mr. Field himself devised a way out of the diffi-
culty. Finding that he would lose the appointment, he
brought certain Democratic influences to bear to induce
Mr. Cisco temporarily to withdraw his resignation, so
that he (Field) might take a place in the New York
office, nominally under Mr. Cisco, but really to prepare
the way for his own appointment after the adjournment


of Congress, and when the defeat of Mr. Lincoln should
have been indicated by the early fall elections. Mr.
Cisco unexpectedly complied, and the subject of conten-
tion was for the moment apparently removed.

Secretary Chase had many subordinates who regarded
it as their duty to magnify his office and exalt his name.
He was firmly of opinion that no one but himself could
maintain the national credit ; these subordinates assured
him that such was the prevailing opinion, and it had be-
come an article of faith in the department. He had no
doubt whatever that the President had embraced it.
He believed that his offer of resignation would create a
general public demand that he should continue at the
head of the Treasury, and upon a recent occasion the
President had confirmed his belief in that respect by
urgently requesting him to change his purpose to re-
sign. Although there was no adequate occasion for it,
he thought the present an excellent opportunity to re-
peat both the resignation and his former experience.
He, therefore, again tendered his resignation, accompany-
ing it with an intimation that the failure to nominate
Mr. Field had rendered his position one of embarrass-
ment, difficulty, and painful responsibility.

The resignation was written and forwarded on the
29th of June. It was not unexpected to President Lin-
coln, and he dealt with it with wise deliberation. Dur-
ing the day he requested me to call at the White House
at the close of business. I found him undisturbed, and
apparently in a happy frame of mind.

" I have sent for you," he said, " to ask you a ques-
tion. How long can the Treasury be 'run' under an
acting appointment ? Whom can I appoint who will not
take the opportunity to run the engine off the track, or
do any other damage ?"


I was too much troubled and surprised to answer him
directly. " Mr. President," I exclaimed, " you will not
let so small a matter as this New York appointment
separate yourself and Governor Chase ? Do not, I beg
of you ! Tell me where the trouble lies, and let me see
if I cannot arrange it."

" No ; it is past arrangement," he said. " I feel re-
lieved since I have settled the question. I would not
restore what they call the status quo if I could."

"But," I continued, "think of the country, of the
Treasury, of the consequences ! I do not for a moment
excuse the secretary. His nomination of Field was most
unaccountable to me. But Secretary Chase, with all his
faults, is a great financier. His administration of the
Treasury has been a financial wonder. Who can fill his
place ? There is not a man in the Union who can do it.
If the national credit goes under, the Union goes with
it. I repeat it Secretary Chase is to-day a national

" How mistaken you are !" he quietly observed. " Yet
it is not strange ; I used to have similar notions. No !
If we should all be turned out to-morrow, and could
come back here in a week, we should find our places
filled by a lot of fellows doing just as well as we did,
nnd in many instances better. As the Irishman said,
In this country one man is as good as another ; and, for
the matter of that, very often a great deal better.' No ;
this government does not depend upon, the life of any man,"
he said, impressively. " But you have not answered my
question. There" pointing to the table "is Chase's
resignation. I shall write its acceptance as soon as you
have told me how much time I can take to hunt up an-
other secretary."

" The Treasury can be run under an acting appointment


two or three days," I answered. " It ought not to be
run for a day. There is an unwritten law of the depart-
ment that an acting secretary should do nothing but cur-
rent business. No one whom you would be likely to
appoint would consciously violate it."

" Whom shall I appoint acting secretary ?" he asked.
" I have thought it would be scarcely proper to name
one of the assistant secretaries after their chief is out."

" If you ask my opinion," I replied, " I should advise
the appointment of the first assistant. I fear the effect
of this resignation upon the country, and it would be
unwise to increase its evils by departing from the usual
course. An intimation from you that nothing but cur-
rent business should be transacted will certainly be re-

' That seems sensible ; I thank you for the sugges-
tion," he said. " But I shall have to put on my think-
ing-cap at once, and find a successor to Chase."

" "Where is the man ?" I exclaimed. " Mr. President,
this is worse than another Bull Kun defeat. Pray, let
me go to Secretary Chase and see if I cannot induce
him to withdraw his resignation. Its acceptance now
might cause a financial panic."

I shall carry the memory of his next words as long as
I live. Every time I think of them Mr. Lincoln will
seem to grow greater as a man to be the greatest Amer-
ican who ever lived. Consider the circumstances. The
country was in the fiercest throes of civil war ; the Pres-
ident was weighted with the heaviest responsibilities;
his Secretary of the Treasury was tendering his resigna-
tion when there was no good excuse for the act, mani-
festly to embarrass him and to increase his difficulties.
Then weigh these words :

" I will tell you," he said, leaning back in his chair,


and carelessly throwing one of his long legs over the
other, " how it is with Chase. It is the easiest thing in
the world for a man to fall into a bad habit. Chase has
fallen into two bad habits. One is that to which I have
often referred. He thinks he has become indispensable
to the country ; that his intimate friends know it, and
he cannot comprehend why the country does not under-
stand it. He also thinks he ought to be President ; he
has no doubt whatever about that. It is inconceivable
to him why people have not found it out; why they
don't, as one man, rise up and say so. He is, as
you say, an able financier ; as you think, without say-
ing so, he is a great statesman, and, at the bottom, a
patriot. Ordinarily he discharges a public trust, the
duties of a public office, with great ability with greater
ability than any man I know. Mind, I say ordinarily,
for these bad habits seem to have spoiled him. They
have made him irritable, uncomfortable, so that he is
never perfectly happy unless he is thoroughly miserable,
and able to make everybody else just as uncomfortable
as he is himself. He knows that the nomination of
Field would displease the Unionists of New York, would
delight our enemies, and injure our friends. He knows
that I could not make it without seriously offending the
strongest supporters of the government in New York,
and that the nomination would not strengthen him any-
where or with anybody. Yet he resigns because I will
not make it. He is either determined to annoy me, or
that I shall pat him on the shoulder and coax him to
stay. I don't think I ought to do it. I will not do it.
I will take him at his word."

Here he made a long pause. His mobile face wore a
speaking expression, and indicated that he was thinking
earnestly; but, with perfect coolness, he continued : "And


yet there is not a man in the Union who would make as
good a chief justice as Chase." There was another pause ;
his plain, homely face was illuminated as he added," And,
if I have the opportunity, I will make him Chief Justice
of the United States."

I thought at the time, and I have never since changed
the opinion, that a man who could form such a just esti-
mate and avow such a purpose in relation to another
who had just performed a gratuitous act of personal an-
noyance intended to add to his responsibilities already
the greatest which any American had ever undertaken
who seemed wholly incapable of any thought of pun-
ishment or even reproof, must move upon a higher plane
and be influenced by loftier motives than any man I had
before met with. In the entire interview there was not
an indication of passion or prejudice ; there was a com-
plete elimination of himself from the situation. There
was nothing but the impartiality of a just judge, the dis-
interestedness of a patriot, the stoicism of a philosopher.
I was silenced, and about to take my leave, when he said :

"Well, then, I understand I can take three days of
grace. In that time I shall find somebody who will
fit the notch and satisfy the nation. Perhaps I shall find
him to-night. My best thoughts always come in the
night. As soon as I find him, you shall know. I must
first write my acceptance of Chase's resignation."

On the following day, June 30th, the President sent
the nomination of ex-Governor Tod, of Ohio, as Secre-
tary of the Treasury to the Senate for confirmation.
There is no occasion now to inquire after his motives.
Undoubtedly, his first thought was of an Ohio man, his
opinion being settled that it was better not to select a
secretary from any of the Atlantic states. The nomina-
tion was not well received, and it was a relief to his


friends when, during the evening, Mr. Tod, by telegraph,
peremptorily declined it.

Before sunrise the next day I was again sent for. I
rode to the White House in the dawning light of an early
summer morning, and found the President in his waist-
coat, trousers, and slippers. He had evidently just left
his bed, and had not taken time to dress himself. As I
entered the familiar room, he said, in a cheerful, satisfied
voice :

" I have sent for you to let you know that we have
got a Secretary of the Treasury. If your sleep has been
disturbed, you have time for a morning nap. You will
like to meet him when the department opens."

" I am, indeed, glad to hear it," I said. " But who

" Oh, you will like the appointment, so will the coun-
try, so will everybody. It is the best appointment pos-
sible. Strange that I should have had any doubt about
it. What have you to say to Mr. Fessenden ?"

" He would be an eminently proper appointment," I
answered. " The chairman of the Senate Committee on
Finance ; perfectly familiar with all our financial legis-
lation, a strong, able man, and a true friend of the Union.
He is also next in the direct line of promotion. But he
will not accept. His health is frail, and his present po-
sition suits him. There is not one chance in a thousand
of his acceptance."

" He will accept ; have no fear on that account. I
have just notified him of his appointment, and I expect
him every moment."

At this moment the door suddenly opened, and Mr.
Fessenden almost burst into the room, without being
announced. His thin face was colorless ; there was in-
tense excitement in his voice and movements.


" I cannot ! I will not ! I should be a dead man in a
week. I am a sick man now. I cannot accept this ap-
pointment, for which I have no qualifications. You,
Mr. President, ought not to ask me to do it. Pray re-
lieve me by saying that you will withdraw it. I repeat,
I cannot and will not accept it."

The President rose from his chair, approached Mr.
Fessenden, and threw his arm around his neck. It may
seem ludicrous, but, as I saw that long and apparently
unstiffened limb winding like a cable about the small
neck of the senator from Maine, I wondered how many
times the arm would encircle it. His voice was serious
and emphatic, but without any assumption of solemnity,
as he said :

"Fessenden, since I have occupied this plape, ev-
ery appointment I have made upon my own judgment
has proved to be a good one. I do not say the best that
could have been made, but good enough to answer the
purpose. All the mistakes I have made have been in
cases where I have permitted my own judgment to be
overruled by that of others. Last night I saw my way
clear to appoint you Secretary of the Treasury. I do
not think you have any right to tell me you will not
accept the place. I believe that the suppression of the
rebellion has been decreed by a higher power than any
represented by us, and that the Almighty is using his
own means to that end. You are one of them. It is as
much your duty to accept as it is mine to appoint. Your
nomination is now on the way from the State Depart-
ment, and in a few minutes it will be here. It will be
in the Senate at noon, you will be immediately and unan-
imously confirmed, and by one o'clock to-day you must
be signing warrants in the Treasury."

Mr. Fessenden was intellectually a strong man, one of


the last men to surrender his own judgment to the will
of another, but he made no effort to resist the Presi-
dent's appeal. He cast his eyes upon the floor, and mur-
mured, " Well, perhaps I ought to think about it," and
turned to leave the room.

" No," said the President, " this matter is settled here
and now. I am told that it is very necessary that a sec-
retary should act to-day. You must enter upon your
duties to-day. I will assure you that, if a change be-
comes desirable hereafter, I will be ready and willing to
make it. But, unless I misunderstand the temper of the
public, your appointment will be so satisfactory that we
shall have no occasion to deal with any question of
change for some time to come."

At this point the conversation terminated, and all the
persons present separated. The result is well known.
Mr. Fessenden's appointment was entirely satisfactory,
and the affairs of the Treasury went on so smoothly that
no change in the financial policy of Secretary Chase was
attempted; and from this time until the resignation of
Mr. Fessenden there was no further friction between the
Treasury Department and the Executive.

Chief Justice Taney died in the following October.
The friends of Secretary Chase immediately put forth
the strongest effort possible to secure for him an appoint-
ment to the vacancy. They were assured that no such
effort was necessary ; that he would receive the appoint-
ment without asking for it. They would not, and could
not, accept the assurance. They said that Mr. Chase
had made some very harsh observations about Mr. Lin-
coln, which must have come to his knowledge ; that
nothing would induce him to overlook those remarks,
unless there was practically a united demand from all
the leaders of the Kepublican party for the appointment.


I am sincerely grateful that I had at that time so true
an appreciation of Mr. Lincoln's character that I knew
that such remarks would make no impression whatever
upon his mind. I was confirmed in my opinion by the
information I received of the experience of the friend of
another candidate who attempted to improve his chances
by repeating to the President some of these remarks of
his former secretary. The President at first replied that
the secretary was probably justified in his observations,
but when the advocate pressed the point more earnestly,
he received a reproof from the President which perma-
nently suppressed further effort in that direction.

The appointment was made in November, as speedily
as was appropriate after the vacancy occurred. The only
direction of the President I ever consciously violated was
when, after the appointment, I had the satisfaction of
informing the chief justice that his appointment had
been decided upon on the 30th of the previous June,
after which the President had never contemplated any
other. Not many days afterwards I was shown a copy
of a letter to the President, written by Mr. Chase, in
which he expressed his gratitude for the appointment,
which, he said, he desired more than any other. Thus
was the entente cordiale restored between these two em-
inent Americans, never again to be broken or interrupt-
ed. Among the sorrowing hearts around the dying bed
of the republic's greatest President, there was none more
affectionate than that of his chief justice and his first
Secretary of the Treasury.



THE demonstration against the city of "Washington by
a Confederate army under General Early in July, 1864,
was one of the important events of the war. It has
originated so many issues of fact that the search for its
true history has become obstructed by serious difficul-
ties. There were reasons at the time why the Federal
authorities did not wish to magnify the danger with
which it threatened the capital, and after the retreat
of his army General Early seems to have been in-
fluenced by motives acting in the same direction. Since
the close of the war, the event has caused an extended
discussion. On one side, the tendency has been to treat
the fights on the Monocacy and before "Washington as
lively skirmishes rather than real battles, while General
Early has persistently denied that the capture of "Wash-
ington formed any part of the plan of his campaign.

I was in the Treasury of the United States and had a
lively interest in the movements of General Early. I saw
as much as any civilian of the movements of our own forces.
I witnessed the fighting in front of Fort Stevens, and I
know whether the terror and consternation existed which
General Early supposes his so-called feint to have created.
I think I am able to give pertinent evidence upon sev-
eral issues which the Confederates have raised.

In June, 1864, all the available troops in the vicinity
of "Washington had been sent to General Grant, who


was pressing Richmond by the slow and sure processes
of a siege. A mixed collection of home-guards, conva-
lescents, and department employes, with a very small
number of veterans, was left in the defences of Wash-
ington and Baltimore, which was intended to hold them
until reinforced from the Army of the Potomac, in case
either city should be threatened by a Confederate army.
At Point Lookout, below the capital, on the Maryland
bank of the river, was a camp of about twenty thousand
rebel prisoners, all veterans made vigorous by rest and
Federal rations, who were much wanted by General
Lee to recruit his army.

The signal service between the Confederates within
the city of "Washington and their friends outside the
defences was perfect. Flags by day, lights and rock-
ets by night, kept General Lee fully advised of every-
thing important for him to know. He was as thor-
oughly informed of the defences of Washington, and
the number and effectiveness of the forces by which they
were garrisoned, as General Grant or any officer of the
Federal army. Grant having undertaken a regular siege
of Richmond which would occupy much time, General
Lee represented to President Davis "the great benefit
that might be drawn from the release of these (rebel)
prisoners," and his ability to "devote to this purpose
the whole of the Maryland troops." "I think I can
maintain our lines against General Grant," he had writ-
ten, " but I am at a loss where to find a proper leader."
" Of those connected with this army, I think Colonel
Bradley Johnson the most suitable." Colonel Johnson
was a native of Maryland, perfectly familiar with the
country between the lines of the Baltimore and Ohio,
and Northern railroads, with Point Lookout, and in fact
with the entire topography of Maryland.


It was supposed at the time that General Lee, having
a full knowledge of the details of the situation, devised
from his point of view an effective campaign, and that
he determined to send a third of his army, under Gen-
eral Early, down the Shenandoah Yalley by forced
marches, across the Potomac, into Maryland. There a
division of cavalry, under Colonel Bradley T. Johnson,
would press on to Point Lookout and release the pris-
oners, guarded by a few colored soldiers, destroying the
Baltimore and Ohio and the Northern railroads on his
way. Early with his army would swoop down upon
and capture Washington before any troops from the
Army of the Potomac could reach it. He would clothe
and arm the prisoners from his captured plunder, and
with his army thus raised to over forty thousand veter-
ans inside the defences, he could compel Grant to raise

Online LibraryL. E. (Lucius Eugene) ChittendenRecollections of President Lincoln and his administration → online text (page 27 of 35)